Legal permanent residents (LPRs) can become U.S. citizens even if they cannot speak English. Foreigners who either have been LPRs for a long time or have a documented impairment which prevents them from learning a new language may nevertheless take the oath.

An ability to read, write and speak basic English is normally a requirement to become a U.S. citizen. However, LPRs are exempt from this requirement if they meet either the 50/20 or the 55/15 rules. In other words, foreigners who are at least 50 years old and have been LPRs for at least 20 years at the time of filing for naturalization do not need to take any part of the exam in English. Likewise, foreigners who are at least 55 years old and have been LPRs for at least 15 years at the time of filing for naturalization do not need to take any part of the exam in English. Note: These persons must still take the civics test in their native language.

LPRs do not need to take neither the English language tests nor the civics test if they can demonstrate a medical disability that prevents them from learning English. Problems with remembering new information are related to cognitive impairment. Cognitive impairment affects memory, concentration and reason. Most persons acquire problems in these areas as they age due to trauma or illness.

Licensed clinicians and physicians can determine whether the foreign national cannot learn English. These clinicians administer psychological tests and complete the forms required by the government to certify the disability. It is not always necessary for the mental counselors or the physicians to spend many sessions with the applicant. For example one clinician requires an initial two-hour session to gather the clinical information. He, together with a medical physician who also evaluates the foreign national, then determines whether the client meets the medical criteria for impairment.

After the clinicians provide the immigration attorneys with their findings, the foreign national appears for the naturalization interview at the Citizenship and Immigration Services office. These person should attend with an experienced attorney. Although this article is written by a Board-Certified immigration attorney, it is not legal advice.